16 February 2019
How bad can they be, you say, those Sicilian roads? If you’ve been, you know! If you haven’t, consider this forewarning. But don’t let it stop you. There are some great places you simply can’t get to on Sicily’s trains and buses and it would be a shame to miss them. Just come prepared!
Before he visited in November, Stefan phoned our friend Clive to warn him about the Sicilian road experience. “No disrespect” he said “but I drove in Khartoum for years so I think I will be ok”. After two hours on the road from the airport, he appeared on the pontoon ashen faced and visibly shaken from his experience!
We’d already had a taste of Sicilian driving when we stopped on the island in 2017 and had a drive into the interior. And this was the result. However, we now know that broken wing mirrors are no badge of shame, rather a badge of honour and frankly, who needs wing mirrors anyway. No one uses them!
These are the things we have learnt about the rules of the road in Sicily:-
Road is sometimes a somewhat optimistic word for Sicily’s roads.
There are some stretches of smooth tarmacked dual carriageway, even some toll motorways, in Sicily but mostly, and especially in the southern part of the island, the roads aren’t quite so smooth or quick.
Even the main roads often have large chunks out of them. Driving off the main road, especially in the dark, is an experience in expecting the unexpected. As well as huge pot holes, you might randomly happen across undergrowth, piles sand or sackfuls of rubbish in the road.
When it rains it’s not hard to work out how the roads get in such a state. They simply become rivers causing even more potholes.
Driving on the right is advisory not compulsory
Perhaps because of the state of the roads, keeping to the right side of the road (which is actually the right in Sicily) is observed only loosely. On quieter roads it’s not uncommon to find a vehicle coming head on, creating all sorts of instant confusion to drivers more used to driving on the left.
The bridges are downright scary
Sicily’s mountainous landscape means that a large proportion of its roads rise across valleys on long, sweeping bridges at great heights. Perhaps because of the horrific bridge collapse near Genoa in August 2018, the authorities seemed to be undertaking reviews and repairs of Sicily’s road bridges – whilst we were on them! Driving across bridges in various stages of repair and having new expansion joints put in was a little disconcerting to say the least.
There are no rules at junctions and roundabouts
Junctions and roundabouts hold their own special kind of terror in Sicily. Rolling out of junctions onto a busy main road at approximately 5 miles per hour in no hurry to speed up whilst a line of traffic on the road screeches to a halt behind you is as Sicilian as cassata.
In Licata there is a convergence of 6 roads at which there is no indication whatsoever of who might have the right of way. We have come to know it as the “close your eyes” junction. Crossing it as a pedestrian is a leap of faith in everyone’s brakes. In a car, as our neighbour Klaus says, “if you brake you lose”!
And as in Albania, roundabouts are a free for all. There’s no knowing whether drivers are going to give way to cars already on the roundabout or simply drive on into it regardless. We’ll never forget seeing someone reverse round a roundabout when he missed his turning!
Using a mobile phone is obligatory whilst driving
Very soon we understood the reason for other drivers veering all over the road at erratic speeds in front of us. They were busy talking on their phones. And another thing we’ve learnt is that the Italians do as much talking with their hands are their mouths which doesn’t leave many hands free for steering. We saw one woman at a junction with one phone to her ear whilst texting on another!
Overtaking at speed is an adrenaline sport
In the face of oncoming lorries or on blind bend, overtaking holds no fear for Sicilian drivers. It also means that frequently drivers have to cut back in right in front of you to avoid collision with an oncoming vehicle, narrowly avoiding collision with you thus kindly sharing the adrenaline rush!
Indicators are definitely an optional extra on Sicilian cars
Whether overtaking or turning off a road there is apparently no real need to indicate your intention. Unless, it seems, you are on your mobile phone when, distracted by your conversation, you leave your indicators on causing much confusion behind you.
The pavement is often as scary as the road
It is not just on the roads you need to keep an eye out for erratic driving, being a pedestrian requires constant vigilance. Cars will just pull up onto the pavement to park in front of you.
So you will start to understand why Stefan’s driving nerves got just a little frayed from our land travels on Sicily and why we chose not to hire another car on our return after Christmas. Stefan might have regretted this a little when the bumpy two hour bus ride from the airport to Licata made him feel just a little bit queasy but at least he wasn’t on hyper alert throughout for that not so rogue driver or pot hole…